Ups and downs in L.A.’s arts funding

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County would increase arts and cultural spending 3.8% under a proposed $22-billion budget released this week, but the city of L.A.’s arts agency could be headed for a 6.1% cut.

Spread among the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the Music Center and the grant-issuing L.A. County Arts Commission, county arts spending will reach $68.5 million if the Board of Supervisors adopts Chief Executive William T. Fujioka’s 2008-09 spending plan.

Meanwhile, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposal, if approved by the City Council, would cut the Cultural Affairs Department’s budget from about $10.1 million to about $9.5 million -- back where it stood in 2004-05.


In the county proposal, arts funding would rise even though overall government spending would dip 2.6%. The opposite is true for Villaraigosa’s $7-billion citywide budget, which hikes spending 2.8% as he tries to put more police on the streets.

While the mayor’s plan eliminates five cultural affairs jobs, lowering staffing to 77, the county budget includes $360,000 for five additional security people at Walt Disney Concert Hall to monitor its hair-trigger fire alarm system. False alarms have gone off at inopportune moments, such as during violinist Itzhak Perlman’s rendition of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata in 2005.

“You get all the bells and whistles in a new building -- maybe too many,” said Music Center spokeswoman Catherine Babcock. “Technology has gotten so sensitive that it takes human effort to watch it.”

County funding of the Music Center would rise 5.7%, to $21.4 million. LACMA would receive $23.6 million -- a 13.1% jump stemming largely from the first of three $2-million annual extra payments to help with increased operating costs due to the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and other new features.

The Natural History Museum would get $13.9 million, 6.2% less than a year ago. Museum President Jane Pisano said the cut was expected -- it balanced an increase last year beyond what was called for in the formula, based on the consumer price index, that determines the county’s support for the museums and the Music Center. Although the cut would mean four fewer county-paid positions at the Natural History Museum, Pisano said the nonprofit operating foundation that shares the cost of running the museum plans to fill those vacant jobs and keep overall staffing unchanged.

The Arts Commission’s proposed $9.6-million budget calls for a 4.6% cut, with funding going back to previous levels after a one-time expenditure of $460,000 to help set up a new countywide Internet clearinghouse for arts organizations’ financial information. The program is intended to streamline the grant-making process for public and private funders.


County-sponsored arts grants would remain at current levels, said Laura Zucker, executive director of the arts commission. The budget also includes about $60,000 in new public funding to save a long-running free concert series after private foundation money dried up.

“We’re really happy with the budget this year, given the overall climate” of austerity, Zucker said.

For the city, the mayor’s budget-tightening would pinch some programs and administrative operations, said Will Caperton y Montoya, spokesman for the Cultural Affairs Department, but grants to artists and arts organizations would remain intact at $3 million.

L.A.’s prospects for local government arts funding appear to be in line with the national trend, Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a service organization for municipal arts agencies, said Tuesday.

“It’s a mixed story,” Lynch said, with certain cities, including Las Vegas and San Jose, girding for big reductions while most expect “fairly flat” funding in the coming year.